Formerly Incarcerated Columbia University Student Receives Highly-Selective Truman Scholarship

The Columbia University School of General Studies (GS) is honored to announce that James Harvey Elliott II, a father, returning citizen, and community college transfer student, has been selected as a 2022 Truman Scholar.
NEW YORK - April 15, 2022 - PRLog -- During the 5 years he spent incarcerated, Elliott discovered a passion for prison reform, and upon release, obtained an associate degree and began speaking at prisons and community colleges, bringing awareness to the effects of mass incarceration.

This prestigious honor, with a selection rate of only 8% of applicants nationally this year, is awarded in recognition of students' exemplary public service work, academic achievement, and leadership, and offers recipients support for graduate or professional school in preparation for a career in public service.

Elliott, who enrolled at Columbia GS in 2020 and is currently a junior and recipient of the School's prestigious PALS Scholarship, which fully covers the cost of tuition and includes a service component, discovered his passion—advocating for prison reform—after enrolling in a distance-learning program while incarcerated.

Upon an early release from prison for good behavior, Elliott enrolled at Delaware Technical Community College (DTCC), an opportunity that drove him to work with DTCC and the American Civil Liberties Union to push for increased access to higher education in American prisons, including testifying for state legislation regarding pardons and expungements.

"My real-world participation in the criminal justice system as an inmate has provided me with a unique perspective that is scarce amongst classrooms of higher learning," said Elliott.

At DTCC, Elliott was not only a member of the community college honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), but was also elected to the position of international president—a role that allowed him to pursue his mission of bringing education to prisons to an even higher level, chartering PTK's first chapter solely for those incarcerated with Ingram Technical College in Alabama, and serving as the catalyst for DTCC to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative. Ultimately, he graduated magna cum laude from DTCC with a dual associate degree in human services and drug and alcohol counseling.

This is the second year in a row that a Columbia GS student and returning citizen has been selected as a Truman Scholar ( The Foundation aims to recognize and reward students who exemplify a unique commitment to public service, and this year, scholars like Elliott will receive significant financial support to pursue graduate or professional school in preparation for a career in public service.

Upon graduating from the Columbia University School of General Studies, Elliott plans to pursue a Juris Doctor degree, and hopes to found a nonprofit that will better enable colleges and prisons to collaborate, bringing more educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals.

To read the full release (, visit the Columbia GS website.

Christina Gray
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Page Updated Last on: Apr 15, 2022
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